French Cycling Federation hope to reach for the Sky

Without a Tour de France winner since 1985, France believe new Paris velodrome can spark British levels of success

Imitation is, they say, the sincerest form of flattery. Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome's recent Tour de France victories were hardly met with universal acclaim by their hosts, but the structure behind them at Team Sky has long drawn admiring glances from across the Channel.

The French Cycling Federation president, David Lappartient, first articulated those feelings publicly in February last year, when he spoke of his desire to create a "Team Sky à la française," maintaining that following the Sky model – a professional road team built upon foundations laid by British Cycling's track success – could restore France's standing in the cycling world.

It is now, after all, almost three decades since the last French Tour winner – Bernard Hinault in 1985 – and the scorecard in other major races is scarcely better.

Next week's Volta a Catalunya, for instance – where Sky will be rolling out the big guns in Froome, Wiggins and Richie Porte as they plot their latest season of major achievement – last had a French victor in 1995.

The catalyst for recent British success was the construction of the Manchester Velodrome in 1994, and it is no coincidence that the French federation formally presented its project the day after inaugurating the new track in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines in January. Remarkably, it is the first full-sized, indoor velodrome to be built in the Paris area for over half a century.

Matching Sky's success is the aim, but the French federation has already outstripped its ambition by planning to field men's and women's professional teams in five disciplines – road, track, cyclo-cross, mountain biking and BMX. Where Sky's stated goal was to produce a British Tour de France winner within five years, the FFC's remit is a broader one. "The main objective is to win the Tour with French riders, but the Olympic Games are also an aim, which is different to other projects," said managing director Olivier Quéguiner.

An inclination to champion tradition over innovation has often been cited as an explanation for French cycling's regression since the 1980s. Former Sky rider Mathew Hayman believes that the current trend of professional teams with links to national federations, is less about flying the flag than applying new ideas to a somewhat conservative field. "When I first came to Europe, it was like stepping back in time. Cycling's a traditional sport and people just followed what had been done before," said Hayman, now with the Australian equivalent of Sky, Orica-GreenEdge. "These new teams are about taking advantage of scientific approaches from track cycling and other sports."

That cultural change has already taken hold at grassroots level in France, resulting in a steady stream of youth world titles in the past decade, while the current crop of young French professionals, led by Thibaut Pinot and Warren Barguil, has been hailed as a new golden generation.

"Our British neighbours have done things worth taking into consideration but we're not doing badly ourselves when it comes to producing young riders," said Sylvain Chavanel, France's top-ranked rider last year. "My worry is that we're not producing good time triallists. Until we do that, we won't have another Tour winner."

The multi-disciplinary approach of the proposed French team could provide a remedy to that problem – Wiggins' transition from track star to Tour champion is an encouraging template – but replicating the British model will prove difficult without the requisite finances.

Whereas Sky Television's association with the British track programme – already supported by lottery funding – segued neatly into its sponsorship of the professional road team, the French federation has no such backer waiting in the wings. Aided by the SportFive agency, the FFC is still looking for a commercial partner to contribute €20m (£16.6m) of a Sky-sized €25m (£21m) annual budget, but time is running out to put a deal together for next year, and a 2016 start is perhaps more feasible.

"Right now we don't have the same money as Britain to develop material: they leave nothing to chance," said François Pervis, who won three gold medals at the recent track world championships yet still expects Great Britain to dominate at the Rio Olympics.

Pervis and his track comrades may have christened the new Paris Velodrome by beating Great Britain in an exhibition match, but there is an acknowledgement in France that overhauling Team Sky and British Cycling on road and track will be a marathon rather than a sprint, and a commercial endeavour as much as a sporting one.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £38,000

£16000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Sales Advisor - OTE 18k-23k

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of Ford's leading Parts Who...

SThree: Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Do you want to learn ...

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders